The Duncan Banner

Local News

December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor survivor helps identify unknown dead

HONOLULU (AP) — Ray Emory could not accept that more than one quarter of the 2,400 Americans who died at Pearl Harbor were buried, unidentified, in a volcanic crater.

And so he set out to restore names to the dead.

Emory, a survivor of the attack, doggedly scoured decades-old documents to piece together who was who. He pushed, and sometimes badgered, the government into relabeling more than 300 gravestones with the ship names of the deceased. And he lobbied for forensic scientists to exhume the skeletons of those who might be identified.

Today, the 71-year anniversary of the Japanese attack, the Navy and National Park Service will honor the 91-year-old former sailor for his determination to have Pearl Harbor remembered, and remembered accurately.

“Some of the time, we suffered criticism from Ray and sometimes it was personally directed at me. And I think it was all for the better,” said National Park Service historian Daniel Martinez. “It made us rethink things. It wasn’t viewed by me as personal, but a reminder of how you need to sharpen your pencil when you recall these events and the people and what’s important.”

Emory first learned of the unknown graves more than 20 years ago when he visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific shortly before the 50th anniversary of the attack. The grounds foreman told him the Pearl Harbor dead were scattered around the veterans’ graveyard in a volcanic crater called Punchbowl after its resemblance to the serving dish.

Emory got a clipboard and walked along row after row of flat granite markers, making notes of any listing death around Dec. 7, 1941. He got ahold of the Navy’s burial records from archives in Washington and determined which ships the dead in each grave were from.

He wrote the government asking why the markers didn’t note ship names and asked them to change it.

“They politely told me to go you-know-where,” Emory told The Associated Press in an interview at his Honolulu home, where he keeps a “war room” packed with documents, charts and maps. Military and veterans policy called for changing grave markers only if remains are identified, an inscription is mistaken or a marker is damaged.

Emory appealed to the late Patsy Mink, a Hawaii congresswoman who inserted a provision in an appropriations bill requiring Veterans Affairs to include “USS Arizona” on gravestones of unknowns from that battleship.

Today, unknowns from other vessels like the USS Oklahoma and USS West Virginia, also have new markers.

Some of the dead, like those turned to ash, will likely never be identified. But Emory knew some could be.

The Navy’s 1941 burial records noted one body, burned and floating in the harbor, was found wearing shorts with the name “Livingston.” Only two men named Livingston were assigned to Pearl Harbor at the time, and one of the two was accounted for. Emory suspected the body was the other Livingston.

Government forensic scientists exhumed him. Dental records, a skeletal analysis and circumstantial evidence confirmed Emory’s suspicions.

The remains belonged to Alfred Livingston, a 23-year-old fireman first class assigned to the USS Oklahoma.

Livingston’s nephew, Ken Livingston, said his uncle and his father were raised together by their grandmother and attended the same one-room schoolhouse. They grew up working on farms in and around Worthington, Ind. Livingston remembers his dad saying the brothers took turns wearing a pair of shoes they shared.

When the family learned Alfred was found, they brought him home from Hawaii to be buried in the same cemetery where his grandmother and mother rest.

About a third of the town showed up for his 2007 memorial service in Worthington, a town of just 1,400 about 80 miles southwest of Indianapolis. The local American Legion put up a sign welcoming home “Worthington’s missing son.”

“It brought a lot of closure,” said Ken Livingston, 62, his voice cracking.

John Lewis, a retired Navy captain who worked with Emory while assigned to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command between 2001 and 2004, said the command is fortunate someone like Emory has the time and initiative to painstakingly connect the dots on the unknowns.

“Without Ray Emory I don’t know if this ever would have been done,” Lewis said from Flowood, Miss.

Emory says people sometimes ask him why he’s spending so much time on events from 70 years ago. He tells them to talk to the relatives to see if they want the unknowns identified.

He doesn’t get emotional about the work, except when the government doesn’t exhume people he thinks should be dug up and identified.

“I get more emotional when they don’t do something,” he said.

He’ll keep working after he’s formally recognized during the Pearl Harbor ceremony on Friday to remember and honor the dead. He has names of 100 more men buried at Punchbowl he believes are identifiable.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • City Council Water rationing specter suddenly produces a crowd

    The Duncan Council met again on Tuesday, as it does twice a month, but there was something different about the latest gathering -- there were more than a handful of people in the audience.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Main Street Duncan receives praise, funding

    Civic leaders on Tuesday endorsed the role of Main Street Duncan in improving the city and urged the council to approve the annual $20,000 contribution it makes to the nonprofit organization.

    July 23, 2014

  • Marlow city council opens fourth firefighter position

    Jason McPherson, Marlow city administrator, announced Tuesday evening that the potential task force for the Marlow fire department did not come together as planned.

    July 23, 2014

  • Stephens County unemployment below the state average

    Oklahoma experienced one of the largest increases in employment in the country for the month of June. The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent, the lowest it has been in almost six years.

    July 23, 2014

  • Community Intervention Center faces budget cuts, layoffs

    While the Duncan Community Intervention Center faces a $126,476 budget reduction next year, it is only part of a $4,977,079 budget reduction by the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs.

    July 23, 2014

  • Library Teen Volunteers Library shows appreciation for teen volunteers

    To show her appreciation for her summer help, Duncan children’s librarian Darbie LaFontain headed a thank you party for the teen volunteers.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • School supplies to be given to Velma children

    Velma children may receive free school supplies thanks to the Velma Volunteer Fire Department and the Velma EMS.

    July 23, 2014

  • 7-22 mainstreet.jpg Most Main Street Duncan members haven’t paid dues

    The new executive director of Main Street Duncan has her work cut out for her.
    The nonprofit organization, designed to pump life into Duncan’s historic down, has collected only 40 percent of the dues it is owed for the past year, according to records.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-22 CTHC Drawing Class2 0288.jpg Phillips leads creative process through Heritage Center art class

    Brenda Phillips took her art knowledge and applied it to two groups Monday.
    Phillips, an art teacher at Duncan High School, led a drawing class Monday at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center, teaching two groups, youths and adults, the basics of drawing. Phillips will continue the two-day class today.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • 7-22 Douglass Pool2 0295.jpg Douglass Pool splash pad work underway

    Douglass Pool may be only about a month away from becoming a splash pad.
    On Monday, City of Duncan workers began breaking up the concrete making up the pool deck. Dana Stanley, parks and cemetery superintendent for the city, said he hopes the slash pad project will be completed by the end of August to allow it to be used before the season comes to an end.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos